Fans eulogize Anchorage movie landmark

FIREWEED: Forty-five years ago at its opening, it set standard for plush.

June 6, 2010 

The Fireweed Theatre as we know it died Sunday, June 6, in Midtown Anchorage after a showing of the Miley Cyrus drama, "The Last Song."

The theater was 45 years old.

Once the largest movie house in Alaska, it was a place of midnight horror flicks and first kisses, sticky seats and "Star Wars" lines.

When the Fireweed opened June 24, 1965 with 1,500 seats and four showings of "Mary Poppins," it represented the theater industry's most modern elegancies.

A 55-foot screen. A "transistorized sound system" and projectors equipped to play 70 mm films such as "The Sound of Music" and "My Fair Lady."

"We are equipped to handle an eight-track stereo movie," Lathrop Co. president Harry J. Hill told the Daily News at the time.

The drive-in came and went. The number of seats expanded to more than 2,200 and the theater was recently drawing 500 to 2,000 customers a day as Regal Cinema's budget movie house, associate manager Deborah Lantz said Sunday.

The Fireweed is survived by Regal's Totem theater in Muldoon, which will soon take over $3 ticket sales, and the new 16-screen and IMAX theater opening in northeast Anchorage this week.

Here's how you remembered the Fireweed over the weekend online and in interviews -- plus a little more on the early days of the theater from the archives of the Daily News and Anchorage Times:

An Alaska drive-in?

"It was difficult to see in the summer because it didn't get dark and (was) equally if not more difficult in the winter because those little heaters you used did not keep you warm, so you had to let the car run. But then again, who really went there to watch a movie?"

-- deborahsjones, adn.com commenter

"The (employees) wore a red jacket and they had little hats. I thought it was really fancy ... I was so excited."

-- Renee Savage, 50, now lives in Ketchikan. Her parents took her to the Fireweed drive-in, her first, when she was about 6 years old to see "It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World."

Scandal!

A group of angry homeowners filed suit Tuesday against the Lathrop Co.'s building a drive-in theatre near the new Fireweed Theatre, charging that open-air theatres attract immoral persons.

"The patrons of such theaters ... engage in promiscuous conduct in vehicles parked thereat, consume alcoholic beverages and make excessive noise," the complaint states.

-- Anchorage Times, July 22, 1965

Sneaking in

"My earliest memory is of going to the Fireweed Theater when it was a drive-in. I was about 4 years old in 1976. I remember my dad driving along the Old Seward Highway in our old station wagon. ... In the long line to the theater, my mom got out and told me to get on the floor, (my dad is laughing hysterically) covered me with a blanket and told me to be very quiet.

"I remember the bumpy concrete to get into the drive in. One memory I'll cherish is sitting on my dad's lap in that old station wagon and falling asleep."

-- Carol Davis, via e-mail

She was watching a James Bond movie

"I couldn't get into the bathroom one time and I slipped into the utility closet and peed in the (cleaning pail)."

-- A woman leaving a showing of "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" Sunday.

An early critic

A letter to the editor, Anchorage News, July 26, 1965:

"The drive-in theatre is an abomination ... Old 'Cap' Lathrop would turn over in his grave if he could see the quickly thrown together theaters now (4 th Ave. excepted), the ticket sellers who might crack their face if they smiled, the ushers who do not usher and the 'intermission' which is allowed to be as long as possible, so that plenty of candy and cake can be sold."

Sincerely yours,

Reluctant TV fan

Mrs. Jeanne A. Allen

The plumbing report

"Once just after the movie began to play there was this ungodly stench that started up from somewhere, it got sooooooooo bad they had to evacuate the theater and gave us complementary tickets for another day. Apparently something went wrong with the plumbing!"

-- Sandy Quinones, Facebook

Associate Manager Sherri Hawes, touched to be ending two years of camaraderie and learning the faces of regular customers, was disheartened to hear multiple moviegoers focused on similar mystery smells over the years.

"We share pipes with other companies and it gets backed up," she said.

Missing link

"I remember seeing 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' there as a kid. I also remember leaving that theater one night and seeing the traffic lights and parking lot lights illuminate the ice fog like stained glass. I will never forget that.

"The Fireweed was a cultural link to the Lower 48 in a very tape-delayed Anchorage."

-- Bill Reid, via Facebook

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